Miami, Fla. – The royal family and the world’s leaders mourn the sudden death of Queen Elizabeth II and pay tribute to Her Majesty who sat on the throne for 70 years. One local former principal and his students got the chance of a lifetime to meet her in Miami in 1991.
The highlight of John Williams and his students’ lives came that year when Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip paid a visit to his school, Booker T. Washington Middle, now Booker T. High School, in Overtown.
Williams recalls vividly the day Queen Elizabeth graced him and his students with her presence, choosing to visit Miami-Dade’s ﬁrst all-Black school in South Florida.
He said Queen Elizabeth was treated to performances by the school’s marching band and a play by the school’s drama club in her honor.
He said she enjoyed every moment of her visit.
"Of course, it was a wonderful experience, one that will last a lifetime," said Williams, who was an educator for 36 years before he retired. "I was a little intimidated talking to her, but she can make you feel comfortable in conversations. She has a wonderful personality and makes a common man like me feel at ease when talking with her. It was a great experience for the school at Booker T. Washington. The students and faculty will always remember that day."
Williams doesn’t recall how the queen’s visit came about or who arranged it.
In 1926, Booker T. Washington started out as the only Black high school during segregation before being converted to a middle school in 1967 to help desegregate the Miami-Dade County school system.
It became a high school again in 1999.
Williams said Queen Elizabeth invited him and his wife to join the royal family for a reception on a yacht later that evening.
There, Williams said they met former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford. "I couldn’t believe it," he said. "My wife and I were meeting the Queen and three former presidents. That was the thrill of our lives that day."
Williams said he was shocked and saddened over queen Elizabeth’s sudden death on Sept. 8. She was 96.
"The passing of the queen was a shock to me and everyone else," he said. "She was beloved not only by the British Commonwealth but the entire world. It’s sad she’s gone too soon, and she will be deeply missed but still loved by everyone."
This week, the Queen’s cofﬁn in a procession is moving through crowds of onlookers in Great Britain with her funeral set for Monday, Sept. 19 in London.
With the changing of the guard, 73year-old Prince Charles III is the new king following his mother’s death and announced Prince William and Kate Middleton are ofﬁcially the Prince and Princes of Wales.
Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral is Monday, Sept. 19 at Westminster Abbey. While condolences are pouring in, leaders from Black commonwealth countries are still bitter and angry.
Charles’ wife is now the Queen Consort.
Born Elizabeth Alexandra Mary on April 21, 1926, in the United Kingdom, Elizabeth was the granddaughter of King George V, and her father Prince Albert was the second son of the king.
Elizabeth’s mother, who later became Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was the youngest daughter of Scottish aristocrate Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, at whose London home she was delivered by C-section.
Elizabeth’s only sibling, Princess Margaret, was born in 1930, and the two princesses were educated at home under the supervision of their mother and their governess, Marion Crawford.
During her childhood, Elizabeth had a love for horses and dogs, and she was described as a jolly little girl, but fundamentally sensible and well-behaved.
During her grandfather’s reign, Elizabeth was third in the line of succession to the British throne, behind her uncle Edward and her father.
When her grandfather died in 1936 and her uncle succeeded as Edward VIII, she became second in line to the throne, after her father.
Later that year, Edward relinquished after he proposed marriage to divorced socialite Wallis Simpson, which provoked a constitutional crisis and Elizabeth’s father became king.
In 1951, Elizabeth often stood in for George VI at public events since his health was on the decline.
After the death of George VI in 1952, Elizabeth’s consequent accession to the throne immediately took effect followed by a coronation to ofﬁcially declare her as queen.
She chose to retain Elizabeth as her regnal name; thus she was called Elizabeth II, which offended many Scots, as she was the ﬁrst Elizabeth to rule in Scotland.
She was proclaimed queen throughout her realm and the royal party hastily returned to the United Kingdom and Elizabeth and Philip, who she married in 1947, moved into Buckingham Palace.
He died in 2021.
In the wake of coalition victory in the ﬁrst Gulf War, Queen Elizabeth became the ﬁrst British monarch to address a joint meeting of the United States Congress in 1991, and in 1994, she became the ﬁrst reigning British monarch to set foot on Russian soil,
which was considered to be one of the most important foreign trips of her reign.
But Queen Elizabeth’s reign also was viewed as racist, pro slavery and violence against the Black commonwealth countries under the British Empire such as South Africa, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and Rwanda, the Caribbean, and Asia.
Queen Elizabeth II inherited millions of people from Black commonwealth countries when she ascended to the throne.
The monarch’s reign represented colonialism, from slavery to corporal punishment in African schools, and taking away wealth from the Black commonwealth countries during her seven decades as queen.
Her death brought complicated feelings and anger by the British empire’s former colonies who never got an apology for the way Blacks were treated including torture and kidnapping during her conflicted reign.
While condolences and praises are pouring in for her, leaders from the Black commonwealth countries are still bitter and angry.
“This commonwealth of nations, that wealth belongs to England. That wealth is something never shared in,” said Bert Samuels, a member of the National Council on Reparations in Jamaica.
Many countries paid the brutal price to become independent including Nigeria which is still haunted by Britain’s role in their civil war when the global power secretly tried to stop the Republic of Biafra’s secession efforts.
In Kenya, Britain tortured thousands of people in detention camps.
Mou Banerjee, a professor of South Asian history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said generations from the Black commonwealth countries are still impacted by the harsh treatment of their ancestors and didn’t feel sad after Queen Elizabeth’s death.
He said they still hold her accountable for what her country did.
"We essentially have to respect her for her very long service, but as the monarch, she cannot be disentangled from colonization of South Asia," Banerjee told NPR.
Last year, Charles III released a statement on how terrible slavery was during the British Monarch’s reign.
He possibly has the power to do something about it but may be reluctant considering the history of the monarch avoiding political issues.
Local elected ofﬁcials paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Danielle Levine Cava said Queen Elizabeth II inspired generations after generations. "Each was touched by her unwavering duty to a nation," she said. "The Queen’s steady leadership was matched only by her dignity and grace.
"We join the world in mourning her loss and send our deepest condolences to the royal family and the people of the United Kingdom."
U.S. Congresswoman and U.S. Senate candidate Val Demings, a Democrat, was campaigning in South Florida when she learned Queen Elizabeth II had died.
"Today we celebrate the life of Queen Elizabeth II who reigned with style, grace, and strength," she said. ‘We all admired her and when she spoke, we listened. In her own words: “The true measure of our actions is how long the good in them lasts.’"
Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered all flags at half-staff in honor of Queen Elizabeth II.
"Today, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II passed away at the age of 96," DeSantis said in a statement. "She was with her closest friends and family at her Balmoral estate in Scotland. Her 70year reign was the longest of any monarch of the United Kingdom and encompassed over a quarter of this country’s existence.
"Throughout her time as Queen, she cultivated a friendship with the White House and met more United States presidents than any other head of state. Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered for her devotion to public service, commitment to duty, and her diligence to deepen the alliance between the United Kingdom and the United States of America."
One local community band was hoping to meet Queen Elizabeth next year in London during a worldwide band competition.
The Sounds of Success (SOS), a community marching band from Riviera Beach were invited to compete in London Bank Week, where members of the royal family will be on hand.
Band members still want to go to honor Queen Elizabeth following her death.
The band, led by former FAMU
Marching 100 member Antoine Miller, is currently raising money to make the seven-day trip in June to compete against other bands from across the world.
Sandy Collier of Hey Sandy PR and Communications, the PR ﬁrm representing the group, said the SOS band needs to raise about $600,000 for travel expenses and hotel accommodations for 80 band members between the ages of 5 and 23 and 20 chaperones.
Collier said the group needs to put down a $50,000 deposit by Sept. 25 to reserve its spot in the contest.
She said the predominantly Black band was invited last year but the event was canceled due to the COVID-
Collier said they are the only community band in the nation to receive an invitation to compete in London Band Week.
"A lot of the kids’ parents can’t afford to send them to London," Collier said. "It’s going to be our community to send them to London. They are not only representing Riviera Beach but the entire country.
"In raising the money, the way I look at it is if each person living in America can donate a dollar, we can get these kids to London. Reach into your hearts and let’s get (these) kids to London."
Miller, a band teacher at a private school, said he started the SOS band in 2018 to give kids and young adults something positive to do in the community.
Miller, 33, said at the time Riviera Beach experienced a high crime rate and realized there weren’t enough community activities to keep young
people off the streets.
"I looked at the news and people got shot and died," Miller said. "There were no activities for young people and I got involved to create a program in the community in hopes of lowering the crime rate and giving kids college music scholarships.
The band received national recognition for performing the opening theme song for the new Fresh Prince of Bel-Air on the Peacock network.
He said his community band performed in local competitions and events including the Boynton Beach Winterfest and the FAMU homecoming Florida Classic.
Miller said they also performed in Atlanta but the invite to London will be the band’s biggest stage.
Miller said when he got the ﬁrst email, he thought it was a hoax but realized it was a legitimate invitation to follow up meetings with the event planners via ZOOM.
"It was the most excited thing to happen for us," he said. "I thought it was a scam because of the high magnitude of the event and in another country. It took me a month to realize it was real. It was the most exciting thing teaching music in the county for 11 years. (We) never received a performance invite of this magnitude until now."
Miller said the group has launched fundraisers including a car raffle and car washes to raise money for the trip. "It will be a big disappointment to turn these kids away," Miller said. "For the community to not come together for these kids will be disappointing. We are putting our faith in the community because we need their support."